High blood pressure can often be reduced by diet. What’s the best diet for high blood pressure and heart disease? Research shows that the Mediterranean Diet is the most effective diet.

Reduction of High Blood Pressure with the Mediterranean Diet

If you suffer from high blood cholesterol, elevated cholesterol, or heart disease, a new study supports eating a Mediterranean diet and explains why it works.

Here is a primer on the Mediterranean Diet:

Food Choices

  • Eat: vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, legumes, potatoes, whole grains, breads, herbs, spices, fish, seafood and extra virgin olive oil
  • Eat in moderation: poultry, eggs, cheese and yogurt
  • Eat only rarely: red meat
  • Avoid added sugar, soda, candies, ice cream, table sugar, etc.
  • Avoid refined grains: white bread, pasta made from refined wheat, white rice
  • Avoid trans fats: found in margarine and various processed foods
  • Avoid refined oils: Soybean oil, canola oil, cottonseed oil and others
  • Avoid processed meat and foods: sausages, hot dogs, many packaged foods

Why is Mediterranean Diet Best Diet for High Blood Pressure?

Why is this diet the best diet for high blood pressure? Randomized trials in Mediterranean countries and observational studies have previously linked a Mediterranean diet to reductions in cardiovascular disease, but the underlying mechanisms have been unclear.

The current research draws on data from more than 25,000 female health professionals who participated in the Women’s Health Study. Participants completed food intake questionnaires about diet, provided blood samples for measuring the biomarkers, and were followed for up to 12 years.

The primary outcomes analyzed in the study were incidents of cardiovascular disease, including first events of heart attack, stroke, coronary arterial revascularization and cardiovascular death.

This new study offers insights into how heart disease risk is lowered from consuming a Mediterranean-type diet.

Investigators from Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School, and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health offer insights from a cohort study of women in the U.S. who reported consuming a Mediterranean-type diet.

  • Researchers found a 25 percent reduction in the risk of cardiovascular disease among study participants who consumed a diet rich in plants and olive oil and low in meats and sweets.
  • The team also explored why and how a Mediterranean diet might mitigate risk of heart disease and stroke.
  • It examined a panel of 40 biomarkers, representing new and established biological contributors to heart disease.
  • Study participants were categorized as having a low, middle, or upper Mediterranean diet intake.

Mediterranean Diet Study Results

  • 4.2 percent of the women in the low group experienced a cardiovascular event.
  • 3.8 percent in the middle and upper group experienced a heart related event.
  • This is a relative risk reduction of 23 percent and 28 percent respectively.
  • This result is similar in magnitude to the effects of statins or other preventive medications
  • There were also changes in signals of inflammation (accounting for 29 percent of the cardiovascular disease risk reduction), glucose metabolism and insulin resistance (27.9 percent), and body max index (27.3 percent).

Researchers’ Analysis of Diet Study Results

The lead author Shafqat Ahmad, PhD, a research fellow at the Brigham and at the Harvard Chan School summarized the message from the findings:

  • “Our study has a strong public health message that modest changes in known cardiovascular disease risk factors, particularly those relating to inflammation, glucose metabolism and insulin resistance, contribute to the long-term benefit of a Mediterranean diet on cardiovascular disease risk.
  • This understanding may have important downstream consequences for the primary prevention of cardiovascular disease.”

Study corresponding author Samia Mora, MD, MHS, a cardiovascular medicine specialist at the Brigham and Harvard Medical School, summarized the findings:

  • “While prior studies have shown benefit for the Mediterranean diet on reducing cardiovascular events and improving cardiovascular risk factors, it has been a black box regarding the extent to which improvements in known and novel risk factors contribute to these effects.
  • In this large study, we found that modest differences in biomarkers contributed in a multi-factorial way to this cardiovascular benefit that was seen over the long term.”

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